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This must be the place: It's all I got to get, it's really all there is

Trailhead of Fork Ridge Overlook. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Trailhead of Fork Ridge Overlook. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

It’s 9:58 a.m. Tuesday. Downtown Waynesville. Back at the office, this week’s newspaper is being edited and proofed before it heads to the printer, onward to newsstands around the region tomorrow morning. 

I’ve already been in the newsroom this morning, looking over the arts and entertainment section. But, right now, it’s an iced coffee and breakfast sandwich at nearby Orchard Coffee. That, and my attitude, more so vibe, it a far cry from what it was coming into last weekend. 

I’ve been in a mental fog lately, and have so for the better part of the last month, especially if you’ve read any of these here columns within that timeframe. With the recent, tragic passing of an old friend in June, I’ve been kind of going through the motions/stages of grief — of what it all means in this sometimes-cruel world. 

When people ask about her passing, I find myself having flashbacks of walking into the ICU, hugging her family and friends, pushing the elevator button to the fifth floor, walking down the hallway to her room, holding her hand, and saying goodbye, mere hours before they took her off life support. 

“You know, I was that close to becoming a nihilist when I walked out of that hospital,” I find myself responding to those with queries about why I’m so quiet and distant lately, where I acknowledge — in unforced matter-of-fact tone — that I was really that close to believing “nothing means nothing.”

But, alas, one can’t think way. You can’t, for if you do then comes the onslaught of things crossing your mind. Why do I even get out of bed in the morning? What’s the point of rent or paying bills or even driving to work? Does anything I do even matter? I mean, if that happened to her — and she was one of the good ones, you know? — then what does that mean for the rest of us left behind?

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The burden of the human spirit and condition is that we overanalyze nothing and everything, and always through the prism of our own life experiences and path to the here and now, for good or ill. Yeah, I was that close to becoming a nihilist leaving the ICU and driving away in a head fog. 

And yet, over a month later, I’m starting to circle back to my old, eternally optimistic self. Now, I’m not religious by any means, even though I was raised in the Catholic church. Even if I went to a hardcore Catholic school on the Canadian Border, one filled with nuns, priests and numerous cold stone statues of Jesus Christ half-naked and bleeding from his ribs. 

But, what am I? Deeply spiritual, where immersion in Mother Nature, music (especially when performed live), abstract art, and in-depth conversation are my altars. My theory is that I don’t think genuine beauty in this world — in whatever form you may see it — is coincidental. Not by any means.

John Coltrane’s musical masterpiece “A Love Supreme” isn’t by accident in the universe, nor is the rambling prose of Jack Kerouac, standing side stage in the midst of a Futurebirds performance in some far away city, the way I feel when I jump into a freezing cold river after a hot and sweaty trail run, or the sincere connection between two souls over strong coffee in a diner booth (nowhere to be but here, and with you).

Thus, yesterday, I knew I needed something to finally knock me loose from this mental funk, to try and put the sad, sorrowful feelings of the past/present into meaning, ultimately placing those sacred sentiments, emotions, actions and thoughts onto the shelves of my memory for safe keeping. 

Shake it out and return to yourself. Remember the beauty in your everyday life, and hold onto that. Nothing is guaranteed — time, love, success — but you can emerge into each day with a renewed sense of self, more so an appreciation and focus on the good things you’ve either planted, grown, cultivated or crossed paths with in your own dealings and endeavors.

So, with Monday afternoon winding down, I got done with my writing assignments, and just as a huge rainstorm rolled into Western North Carolina. No matter, I like the rain, especially when it comes to frolicking in it. Felt the urge for a trail run/hike. Jumped into the truck and headed down the road, not knowing if I was going to turn left or right — let instinct and intuition take the wheel. 

Turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway right as heavy raindrops and dark clouds appeared. Eventually, I felt like pulling over and jogging/hiking whatever trail appeared next. Turned out to be the Fork Ridge Overlook Trail, which meanders up a ridge to Waterrock Knob. Parked and hit the trailhead. Nobody around, had the whole place to myself. 

Rain trickling through the thick tree canopy. My trail shoes getting soaked as I happily trotted and splashed through mud puddles, atop roots and slippery rocks. The mesmerizing, pungent smell of ancient earth and forest amid a rainstorm. About an hour into my trek, I turned around when it started to get too dark and foggy to see the trail. Did about four miles or so. Legs felt great, the body and soul utterly refreshed. 

By the time I got back to the trailhead, I couldn't even see the Parkway when I crossed it back to the truck. Popped down the tailgate and sipped on a celebratory trail running beer, truly enjoyed in my own time and pace. 

The rain clouds swirled around me as I became totally immersed in that moment while the storm passed by where I sat. It is moments like that where one genuinely feels present — this time and space of your arrival at this juncture, and not by coincidence or chance.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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